GRUB & Runaway – Food and Beer. Matched. 

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I’ve been struggling to write recently. I needed something that matters to me, that I care about to get me jump started. And then I noticed what was happening on Saturday.

In the last 3 years or so, Manchester has been blessed with great beer. I’ve written about that side of things to the point where even I yawn. But in those 3 years, I have been privileged to witness – along with some old friends – some fabulous events held in (what I would regard as) the real Northern Quarter. Part of the original N/4. Events that pull together great local beers, great tunes and – most importantly – fabulous food.

And at the heart of this are Bailey & Jules. Better known as the people behind GRUB.

Starting at Black Jack and more latterly Runaway Brewery, they have created a “feel good vibe” that it has been a pleasure to be around. Relaxed, civilised and undeniably Mancunian. With a street food contact book to kill for, excellent beer connections and an instinct for what feels right, they have put on events that have become quintessentially Manc.

Just a little like a Manchester summer (that thing we rarely get), no matter the weather, when the canvas goes up in either Runaway or Sadlers Yard, I know what I’m going to get, great beer, great food and a smile on my face.

This weekend is no exception.

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Runaway just make some of the best keg beers in the country. No palaver, no hype, Mark, Darren and the crew just get on with making great beer – I’m a HUGE fan of the Pale & American Brown to name but two! And the newly married Bailey & Jules have brought together some simply stunning food traders to have with them. There might even be a Keg of the Hawkshead Mass Collab Session IPA knocking about.

(left – then clockwise – Scoop Up, Oh Mei Dumpling, What The Truck)

Food from three  exciting (and no doubt nervous) new traders in Scoop Up (Ice Cream – pray for the Sun Gods!); Oh Mei Dumpling (need a clue?) and the fabulously named “What The Truck” (Tacos, Bahn Mi and much more….) as well as the most excellent Mac Daddies & Hip Hop Chip Shop.

(Mac Daddies & Hip Hop Chip Shop)

What Bailey & Jules have done is put their heart and soul into something that they truly love – great food – and adding a certain Mancunian soul, it’s the only way that I can describe it. They make it look effortless. And I – for one – know the hard work that this takes.

With great food and beer like this (as well as some seriously laid back tuneage), let’s be proper Mancunians eh?

Let’s pretend it’s summer!

Manchester – Where It’s At?

Cotopaxi

“There’s a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turn low
The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow

Pulling out jives and jamboree handouts
Two turntables and a microphone
Bottles and cans just clap your hands
Just clap your hands

Where it’s at!
I got two turntables and a microphone…. “

(“Where It’s At” – Beck : YouTube Clip – GrandMa Bird)

On Friday evening, I returned home from a day at New Mills Beer Festival (bijou – as in small – to say the least) via Manchester. No plan to have a beer in “Town” at the start of the day, but plans, as you well know, have a habit of being…… shall we say…. dynamic?

Anyway. Having deposited a bottle of the most excellent “American Barleywine” by Torrside with the Arch Nemesis, I hobbled towards the Crown & Kettle.

The objective? Cotopaxi DIPA by Track. On cask.

A rare thing to see a DIPA on cask. I was lucky to try the first DIPA brewed by Cloudwater on cask on its launch day last year and (at the time) enjoyed it marginally more than the keg and bottle. A marvelous beer in the truest sense in that I wondered at the flavour and texture being far lighter (and almost “sessionable”) than a 9% beer had any right to be.

The Track was big and juicy. Chewy malt and huge hopping giving a real balance. In an age where balance is deemed unfashionable. It amazes me how brewers make such beers so eminently drinkable.

Then we went to The Smithfield. Where it was on keg.

WOW. What a difference! The carbonation and – dare I say it – the temperature, made a HUGE  difference. The beer was lifted and lightened. The hops soared over the malty landscape and simply stunned me.

From a vaguely remembered conversation with Sam (Mr Track), I seem to recall that he preferred it on cask in some ways . I have to disagree (Memory, O fickle thing!). He prefers it on keg.  And I never thought I would agree with those who say that certain styles suit Keg. This beer danced. And got me thinking….

Is this city where it’s at, beer wise?

Cask Beer – Is there a better session pale ale than Sonoma by Track? I haven’t had a better pale ale in cask in the last 12 months. Juicy, punchy and smooth. Just an absolute go to. For someone who doesn’t normally have such beers.

Manchester is choc full of great breweries banging out superb cask conditioned beers. Nowhere better. Let’s be hearing those arguments, down below.

“Craft” Keg – Unless you’ve been in hibernation for the last 7 days, you won’t have missed the reams of web inches splaffed on Cloudwater’s DIPA v3, if it’s a patch on v1 it will be a classic. They’ve been slipping out some simply stunning lagers too, vastly underrated when compared to the DIPA and IPA.

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Marble seem to be under the radar of late. But with James Kemp keen to put a stamp on the brewery, they’ve put out two crackers with Damage Plan & Built to Fall. For me, still THE brewery in Manchester all round.

However, the beer that has made my taste buds sing more than any other on keg is from Runaway. Their Pale. I’ve had it a few times in the last fortnight and it is absolutely WAILING! So fresh, light and just zipping out of that glass. Simply stunning. (The American Brown is a bit special too)

And if somebody wants to put London up? Other than Weird Beard, I’m not convinced by the hype around many London breweries. I’m just not. That isn’t parochialism. Just my taste buds talking to me.

Manchester also has an absolutely BANGING set of brewtaps that are coming into their own at this time of year too. Black Jack / Runaway (On tomorrow!) / SquawkTrack all pack out their arches with stunning beers and great food (none too shabby tunes either….) and with people like Beer Nouveau regularly opening their doors too, there’s something for everyone!

The drinking area where I struggle to justify the primacy of my beloved city is……. Pubs. It has so MANY cracking bars that you’d struggle to keep up, but….

Manchester has a thriving beer scene – Christ KNOWS I’ve been waffling on about it for long enough. This scene will be placed front and centre in June when Connor Murphy rolls out the fullness of Manchester Beer Week. Something to which I’m looking forward to hugely – I may even be…….. Ah. That’s for another time

Where this city falls – slightly – short, is in a concentration of classic freehouses. It has great pubs. But many of these are hobbled by pubco ownership which restricts the beer supply to – for me – the larger regional breweries and the huge firms like Marstons (eg Bulls Head) & Greene King (Lass O’Gowrie).

Go to places like Sheffield, Huddersfield & Liverpool though and they appear to be over endowed with classic pubs that also dispense great local beers. I was awe-struck and incredibly jealous when I strolled around both H Town & Sheff last year and wandered around in an impressed daze when we went to Liverpool recently.

Yes. We have The Marble Arch, The Crown & Kettle, but little else in the way of truly great beautiful pubs, with truly great beer. Too many pubs hobbled by pubco control – that’s a whole other argument though.

Manchester is a city where bars shine. Port Street, Pie & Ale, (Marble’s own) 57 Thomas Street, Soup Kitchen, Font, Sandbar…..the list goes on.

On balance – in the North, for sure – Manchester has “it”. For me in any case.

That’s enough inflation of that “Manchester Bubble” from me – for now. Next stop, Hebden Bridge!

Back soon.

Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2016 : My “Dance Card”

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Welcome to the beer festival that shows that CAMRA “do” UK Keg! Yes, I KNOW that the Campaign has had numerous kegged beers over the years! BUT…..These are beers brewed in the UK, mostly not designed to be dispensed from a cask. That is BIG news. To be celebrated.

And it has moved from the (“a little bit awkward to get to”) Velodrome – an iconic modern venue – to somewhere infinitely more “Central”. And more historically iconic. A Mancunian architectural masterpiece. And THAT should also be celebrated.

That out of the way, I’m a lucky sod. I get to see the beer list. And it is a big list. And – instantly removing anything from Marstons – there is something for everyone. Even me.

So. Being a “tactical drinker” at beer festivals, I compile a plan of attack – a “dance card” if you will, that panders to my Northern sensitivities. Others may list beers from that there London. Not I. With one exception (noted and explained below) mine are from no further South than Crewe and no further North than Malton.

A narrow focus.

But I care precisely how much?

Here we go, in strength order. Like I said, “tactical drinking”….. And, just in case you’re interested in trying any of these yourself, I’ve included the bar on which to find them. Because I’m nice like that!

No 2 Stout – Stringers Beer – Stout – 4% abv – Bar 3

A beer that I absolutely adored in bottle from the very first sip about 3 years ago. And I have NEVER had in on cask. I have often gazed at the pump clip on the wall at Port Street and whimpered. Envious.

Bitter and roasted. As black as Donald Trump’s evil heart. I will be distraught if I don’t get to try this. My #1 priority.

Admiral Porter – Brewsmith Beer – Porter – 4% abv – Bar 1

Why? Because it’s Brewsmith. And James Smith (see what he did there?) has yet to put out anything less than excellence.

And the Admiral hop gives the lie to those who whinge that UK hops are crap. It’s an aromatic beauty of a thing.

Sorachi Ace – Mallinsons Brewery – (Single Hopped) Pale Ale – 4.2% abv – Bar 2

Why? Stupid question. It’s Mallinsons. And it’s a single-hopped Pale Ale.

And – in the words of Carly Simon – “Nobody does it better”. I’ll be having a pint.

At least one….

Talisman IPA – Pictish Brewing – Pale Ale – 4.2% abv – Pictish Brewery Bar

A brewery that is in need of better PR. They should be HUGE. Possibly the most underrated brewery in Greater Manchester. Brewers of simply outstanding single-hopped Pale Ales.

Unmissable.

Mr Scruff Pale – Squawk Brewing – Session IPA – 4.6% abv – Bar 3

Oliver Turton has been quietly brewing some of the best beers in Manchester for the last two years. That’s enough reason to do this.

And I love the Centennial hop.

Lupy Lager – Offbeat Brewery – Lager – 4.7% abv – Bar 2

A cask conditioned lager from one of my very favourite breweries? And it’s a one-off? Damn those CAMRA oiks! I’ll be having words with Miss Kelsall about that…..

Again, unmissable….

Orange and Rosemary Belgian Pale – Bad Seed Brewery – Belgian Pale – 5% abv – Bar 1

Rosemary in beer can be herbal Marmite to some. But I love it. And Bad Seed would be just the brewery to pull this off.

Looking forward to trying this HUGELY.

Bitter Chocolate Stout – Runaway Brewery – Stout – 5% abv – Runaway Bar

A new beer to me from the best and most consistent new brewery in Manchester. Mark Welsby makes good beer. For those with no love of keg, prepare to be converted.

Mancunian Evil Keg Filth of the highest order. And you can quote me on that!

Marmite Stout – Ticketybrew / Quantum BrewingStout – ? abv – Bar 3

Two breweries unafraid to try something different. Or unusual. This beer can be safely said to tick BOTH of those boxes.

This sounds inspired. It’s certainly interesting!

Pale Rye (Name TBC) – Track / Matt Dutton – Pale Ale – ? abv – Bar 3

OK. Track are banging out some tremendous beers with arguably the strongest core range of any Manchester brewery. I’ve been saying for AGES that Sonoma is a Manchester classic.

Factor in a collab with the best home brewer in the UK, Matt Dutton, this is going to be special! I have sampled several of Matt’s beers and he – should he choose to go commercial – is a star in the making. This beer rates as priority #2. Unmissable.

AllDay Coffee IPA – Allgates/Manchester Beer Week – Coffee IPA – 5.1% abv – Bar 1

A Coffee IPA brewed especially for the festival by the most drinkable of breweries and Connor Murphy wearing his MBW head. Read the blog piece and it sounds AMAZING!

Centennial – Torrside Brewing – Porter – 5.4% abv – Bar 3

I have been lucky enough to try beers brewed at home by each of the Torrside triumvirate. It was therefore no surprise at all when they hit the ground running when they launched late last year.

My heart lies in darkness. Torrside make great beers. A marriage made in….

Nouvelle Saison: Beetroot and Horseradish –Alphabet Brew Co – Saison – 6% abv – KeyKeg Bar

I wouldn’t miss this flavour mix for all the tea in….. Intriguing to say the least!

Sorachi Grey – Five Oh Brew Co – IPA – 6.5% abv – Bar 1

If Jamie Hancock puts his beer in cask, it is both a rare event (wonder where he did it first?) and unmissable.

This man brews good beer.

Victoria Export Stout – Bexar County Brewery – Stout – 6.7% abv – Bar 1

My sole selection from south of Crewe. Why? Because I think that I have had 3 beers that this man has brewed. All excellent and two of those (a collab with HDM and his Pecan Coffee Mild) were among the best beers I’ve had in years!

And it’s pronounce BEAR. “The X is silent. The Beer speaks for itself” Indeed….

And finally……

Rampart – Ossett/Brass Castle Collab – IPA – 7% abv – Bar 2

“Heavily hopped West Coast style IPA. Tangy bitterness & intense grapefruit, floral & tropical fruit flavours.” – Case rested!

Well. That’s that. As Rabbie Burns allegedly said “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”, so (like last year) I’m bound to miss one of these. But it won’t be for the want of trying!

It’s Tryanuary. Get ticking!

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And for those who want to plan ahead, here is the link to the full UK beer list! http://mancbeerfest.uk/beers-ciders/uk-beers/

 

 

 

Bottled Beers – May 2015

Red Shed sign

(Where I am later!)

After May 7th and the shocks contained therein, I struggled a bit. I won’t wibble on about politics, I’ve got too much to do to wallow in self-pity, what with planning for The Independent Salford Beer Fest 2015 and all, but now is a time that I cling to what’s important. People. Hence why we’re having our little bash again in October. Announcements soon.

But, on to bottles…..

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1. Rye IPARunaway Brewery (Manchester) – 5.9%abv – Rye IPA – 330ml – Andy Heggs

Thank you Mr Heggs! I finagled this from him at the excellent Shebeen 2015 whilst we were sat in Black Jack and I was getting sozzled. And very cheeky.

Copper coloured and with a firm white head, this beer gives of an aroma that reminds me of a spicy fresh-baked wholemeal loaf. But one with a distinct citrus note. Really appetising.

Smooth with very gentle carbonation, the fruity front is mugged by spicy rye dryness. The fruitiness is huge, with orange up top with more than a hint of mango. But that fruitiness can’t escape this thuggish spicy dryness. It’s brutal.

And Oh so bloody moreish.

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2. Out of Step IPAOffbeat Brewery (Crewe) – 5.8%abv – IPA – 500ml – Direct

(Bought direct from the brewer)

I don’t get it. Why don’t we see more of Offbeat’s beers in Manchester? Michelle makes some simply fabulous beers and I can’t se them in Manchester? Ludicrous!

A mid golden beer with a fluffy white lacy head, (slightly hazy due to a misjudged pour), really fruity aroma on this with apricot and grapefruit in the nasal vanguard.

Oh this is nice indeed. This is a full-bodied beer with just right carbonation. The fruitiness in the mouth being more apricot but this time with something a little more tropical, like mango and passion fruit. There is a bracing bitterness in this, which (to me) should be in all IPAs.

There is a cracking resinous finish to this with that fruitiness in there too. This is a belting beer from a criminally overlooked brewery. We need some of her beer in Manchester. And sharp!

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3. Fat Lady StoutRammy Craft Ales (Ramsbottom) – 4.5%abv – Stout – 500ml – Great Ale Year Round (Bolton) – £3

A black beer with a creamy coloured head giving off an aroma of bitter chocolate with a hint of licorice.

Medium bodied with an initial sweetness, that soon slides into something more dark roasted and lush. Quite creamy textured, with bitter chocolate front and centre. That bitterness wanders more towards coffee on the swallow and a substantial bitterness takes over.

This is a sessionable dark beer after my own heart, with the dry bitter finish I enjoy in a mid strength Stout. Who needs Guinness when you have beers like this?

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4. PortentousPeter Sidwell – 5%abv – Porter

Peter is (I think) one of the Manchester Home Brewers group. He certainly isn’t commercial at this stage. If I remember rightly, i saw this bottle in his hand at the MBCF and nearly ripped his hand off!

A deep ruby brown beer that is almost black with a light cream head and a  big chocolaty aroma.

A medium bodied beer, the first thing to tickle the tongue is chocolate. This is slightly sweet and really chocolaty. The next is a little winey note, like a smooth red. Then a tongue tickling spice, slightly peppery, like rocket. And all the while, that chocolate….

The aftertaste retains the chocolate, but there is a spicy woody feel to it that completes this nicely. A damn fine Porter. And brewed by a home brewer too!

The best praise that I can give, is that I’d happily pay for this at a bar. It’s that good.

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5. TuringBeer Nouveau (Prestwich) – 4.4%abv – Pale Ale – 330ml – Browtons (Ashton-under-Lyne) – £2.45

I was intrigued by the idea of using sage to flavour a beer. I had to give it a go……

A golden, almost amber beer with a light thin white head, lightly carbonated, with a light tropical fruit aroma (passion fruit is noted on the label – that works!)

In the mouth, there is a nice fruitiness to this initially, which meets a bitter herbal counterpart in the sage that is added to this brew, that bitterness almost catches me unawares. That bitterness fades and an almost tea like tannic aftertaste kicks in, really dry.

I  wasn’t sure about sage in a beer, but this light, Pale and refreshing beer works a treat for me. Slainte!

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6. Espresso StoutSquawk Brewing Co (Manchester) – 6.5%abv – Stout – 330ml – Epicurean (W Didsbury)

Like a chalice full of liquid pitch, this is black. A proper Stout. Dark, delightful and dangerous to look at. Almost daring you. “Go on! You know that you want me!”

Made with fresh roasted coffee from Bean Brothers, unsurprisingly, this positively reeks of coffee. As bitter as Nigel Farage as the result was called. There’s a herbal licorice note too in the background.

For a 6.5% beer, this feels quite light and sprightly, at first, a little sweetness then BAM! Eyelid pinning coffee hit…… Yup. That’s definitely a big coffee flavour!  With that underlying big Stout sweetness.

There’s quite a spicy thing at the back of the tongue as the beer slides you towards sleeplessness going down the throat. The roof of the mouth tingling after the swallow.

A fine beer indeed. If a little ill-advised before bedtime!

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7. Scarborough Fair IPAWold Top (Driffield, N Yorkshire) – – 500ml – Birthday Pressie!

Thank you Sue! This bright ultra Pale golden beer has a light white head and a really fruity aroma, tropical fruits with passion fruit and kiwi flying out of the foam.

Full bodied is this beastie,  whilst perversely feeling light. Really fruity with that kiwi well up there, but a big refreshing and tart lemon hit was a more than pleasant surprise! For  a beer at this strength, this is WAY too refreshing and just damned drinkable.

There’s a nice light malty biscuit and a big balancing act going on because these hops are just beautifully tart and give a big dry finish that leaves you wanting more.

An absolute belter and a really nice beery pressie amongst the cognacs & single malts!

That’s it for bottles this month. With EastWestFest tomorrow, Brighton next week and London a week later, the focus will be on pubs (and one very special beer festival!)

On that note….’til next time

Slainte!

Shebeen 2015 – 02/05/2015

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At the end of a tiring week, what I needed was……..a little “pick me up”. That, or a Saturday morning lie-in. Finding myself walking down Dantzic Street in Manchester’s “Green Quarter” at 11am meant that the latter was a no no, but the former was guaranteed!

The event was put together by Jason Bailey (of GRUB fame), Black Jack Beers and events/music specialists Shebeen UK and was a multi-venue celebration of beer, food, music, comedy and art with all venues (Black Jack, Glassworks & Runaway Brewery) within seconds of each other. All that was needed was the sun to put his hat on……..

But this is Manchester……..

So the rain came……

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(Look! A pop up food village! Next to a Brewery! Result!!!)

I simply detest being late for anything. So having been asked to turn up for 11:30, I got there at 11 and mucked in with Jules (Morris, Jason’s partner) setting up tables, chairs and banners and stuff whilst Jason (known to his friends by his surname) sweated the small stuff that always needs doing in the final minutes before the metaphorical gates open. He wanted everything to be “just so”. I think he got his wish.

Seeing Mark Welsby (Chief Alchemist at Runaway Brewery) is always a pleasure. No matter how busy or stressed he might be, there’s never a smile or a cheery word far from his lips, just one of life’s good guys, so I was chuffed that I was placed at the Runaway site and even more pleased when I had a half of his Marzen placed in my hand! Rich, fruity, with a residual sweetness, this “pick me up” was just what Dr BM ordered!

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With the “starters gun” sounding at 12, people started to drift in. All “checking in” being performed at Runaway, enabling people to then wander around the three sites at their leisure. Initially a fairly young crowd, it was great to see a wide age range, with lots of young families turning up. Just gave the event a bit of a relaxed party feel. I really enjoyed the checking in

a) Because I am a bit of a (using the Bolton vernacular) Gobbin                                                               b) It gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with Eventbrite Manager, which we’ll be using at #ISBF2015 in October.

It was great fun. And all the more so as I tucked into a rather superb lunch of a cracklingly spicy Atomica pizza from the lovely fellas at Honest Crust, acompanied by a Runaway Rye IPA! Just as I got my pizza, the punters started flooding in. The pizza still tasted great when I finally got back to it. Cold. But absolutely delicious.

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(Lunch. Yum!)

With some fabulous laid back tuneage being pumped out by So Flute, the vibe was starting to get (what those younger than I might call) “buzzy”. And I think that – more than ticket sales (and it WAS sold out) – it’s the feeling that people give off that demonstrates if an event is a success or not. And this really felt quite special.

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The finishing of the pizza signalled my re-allocation over to one of the other venues – Black Jack. Again, on “the door” (Bailey must think that I look like a “bouncer”!) Watching Rosie and the girls dancing behind the bar, it was immediately apparent that the party vibe was in full effect here as well!

Grabbing a pint of Black Jack Beers‘ own Manderelma (I think that’s what it was called?) and follwing some mouthfuls of Rob’s Orangey elixir, I was off again gabbling more nonsense at arriving punters. And then, just before I went into “concierge overdrive” mode, Bailey must have remembered that he needed some “pros” on the doors, because the security guys arrived, which meant…..I headed to the bar double quick!

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(Black Jack)

It was a fairly cool Manchester day with the rain never far away, so my choice of attire (thin shirt and shorts) attracted a few concerned comments. Batted away by my various assertions of being a rather numb fella with pleanty of internal insulation!

This was chat time! Andy Heggs (Mr HopOnTheBike to you & I) introduced me to a nice fella Tom from #CraftBeerHour who must have been petrified by two Mancs assailing him with the words “You NEED to come to Salford in October!” He seemed a nice fella and I may take him up on his rash offer of a little light being cast by his weekly Twitter event on our humble bash!

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(Not JUST about beer & food you know!)

I have this theory that good people tend to gravitate toward one another. This being exampled by a number of people I spouted nonsense with. Andy (Heggs again), the mighty Deeekos, Mark (Runaway), Rob Hamilton (Mr Black Jack), Jay Krause (Quantum), Gregg & Alison Irwin (Weird Beard),Tom (Craft Beer Hour) all showed admirable restraint (and failed to yawn!) whilst I spouted my ususal gibberish about nothing in particular.

It’s always good to talk about beer.

It was nice to wander between all three venues. Each time I poped (or even “popped”) in to a venue, there was a nice surprise. In Runaway, it was a further chat with Mark (and a spot of “plotting” I recall!) and an outrageously good pint of his Smoked Porter. Just SO GODDAMN SMOOTH and creamy with just the right amount of rauch to it. A glorious beer and probably Beer of the Day for me.

Wandering (for the first time) into the Glassworks venue, I was chuffed (and no little surprised) to see the lovely Michelle (from the hugely underrated Offbeat Brewery – need more of her beers in Mancunia folks!) and David, from Otherton Ales (the “boyfriend thing” – HER phrase, not mine!). We managed to chat a bit (with a good sounding band in the….background) and maybe do some “plotting” for #ISBF2015 – my memory is starting to get hazy at this point in proceedings! (Did I REALLY ask David if he’d cask a beer for #ISBF2015?)

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I think that it’s safe to say that this event was a resounding success. All the elements came together just so. Great food, great beer and good people. Life in a nutshell. Manchester people turned out in their hundreds and – from what I could see – had a great time in doing so. All the more remarkable given that Manchester cloaked itself in the usual drizzle for most of the day!

All bodes well for the Keystone project. I wish them every success. Well done Bailey & Jules and to everyone else involved. It was a blast!

And after all that beer, what to do? Go for more! And that, for me, means the Crown & Kettle. It says something that after all that I had drunk, that the C&K served me an absolutely superb pint of Bad Kitty porter from Brass Castle. It was creamy, utterly luscious and silky with a little vanilla sweetness. I was moved to an expletive laced tweet. It was THAT good! (Nice to bump into Jay & Dom again too!)

Now….About the weather……(see what I did there?)

“The weather’s variable so are you (changes, changes)
But I can’t do a thing about the weather.

Do you have your ticket?
Can you foresee (changes, changes)
Another time when we might be together?

You have a broken window, through which the rain pours in my ear
This week’s been all ears and edges, it’s getting like a career”

(“About The Weather” – Magazine

Clip Courtesy – Makecelebshistory on YouTube)

Magazine are Manchester musical legends. I vividly recall the moment when Howard Devoto strode imperiously onto the stage at Manchester Academy to the whipcrack drum beat and rumbling bass intro to “The Light Pours Out Of Me” (clip from “Later”). It was akin to being at an evangelical event. Nothing short of adoration.

That track alone is a permanent fixture in my personal All Time Top 10. And it came from an album that was arguable the first truly great album of “New Wave”, the mighty “Real Life” – and given the preference for buzz saw guitars and sonic brevity that prevailed at that time, it was a bloody brave musical statement. It was lyrical, at a time when all was attitude. It was melodic at a time when melody was frowned upon. It was bloody strange in parts too. And it still stands the test of time.

The album that spawned “About The Weather” though, for me, is tainted by the dread hand of Martin Hannett, the “legendary” Manchester producer who mixed it. His belief that the snare drum was the basis of all great music. It just led to this album being a tinny mess. Which is a shame. Because Magazine’s final album deseved so much better. Such a great song though.

Heaton Hops – 30/03/2015 – A Classy Micro Pub

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(I thought that it never rained in South Manchester?)

I am a lucky man sometimes. It certainly felt that way, when I received an invite to a “soft opening” of a brand new bar being opened by Damian O’Shea (of “The Ale Man Manchester” fame). My plans were made to meet Andy (of “Hop On The Bike” infamy) on the concourse at Piccadilly Station – complete with rose in lapel.

Then…..Public Transport shall we say….intervened.

It was hardly an auspicious start for this opening to take place in such foul weather. Let me honest here…..If it wasn’t a bar being opened by Damian and his partner Charlotte, I wouldn’t have stepped on the bus. But I did. And I could have nearly walked quicker! As it was, I got off on Bridge Street in Manchester and marched to Piccadilly…well in advance of the bus that I’d left.

Then….

I caught the wrong train. And ended up at Manchester Airport. Yes. I know. I AM an utter idiot. Right time, wrong platform it would appear. Should have gone to Specsavers eh? Right. Back on the same train and return to Piccadilly and start with a clean slate. And more caution!

So I now find myself on Heaton Moor Road, crossing the A6 from Heaton Chapel train station onto School Lane. In the pouring rain. (I’m SUCH a poet!)

I tell you. Odysseus had less of a journey to get a beer! Homer (No. Not the yellow one!) would be proud of me. And be readying his stylus and wax tablet for a sequel!

The windows were steamy. A good sign that it was busy.

Opening the door. First impressions? Classy. Neutral paintwork on the walls, REAL wood cladding on the ceiling and upper portions of the walls, pendant lighting. It looked great. To be honest, anything less would have been disappointing. I’ve known Damian as a customer for nearly 3 years and this was what I expected from him. It looked really good and serves as a lesson in how to do this – no names mentioned.

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(Busy)

It is (by its very nature as a converted shop) small. Including a downstairs area, the capacity is 60, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, a situation that is arrived at by the provision of a number of distressed wood tables giving plenty of seating, which was all occupied as I entered and strode to the bar.

Beers. 2 on cask and 8 on keg. But I needed a pint. And, for an opening night, to have cask beers from two local breweries, Brewsmith & Thirst Class Ale, was like music to my eyes and tastebuds. So, for me, as local as it gets with a pint of Green Bullet by Thirst Class Ale of Stockport – Nicely bitter with a fruity pine flavour and a resinous finish. I enjoyed it. I had a few.

On either side wall, there are shelves and shelving full of some of the best of British Craft brewing. The first thing that I saw was a few bottles of Smokehouse Porter by Cheshire Brewhouse. Now those who know me, will know that some of those were simply BOUND to end up in my bag!

Heaton Hops Thirst Class

(Photo courtesy of Richard Conway – aka Thirst Class Ale)

Next to the Smokehouse Porter were some bottles of my Best Bottle of 2014 – (Barrel Aged) Govinda, again by Cheshire Brewhouse. Next to that, Smoked Treacle Imperial Stout by Quantum. All 3 beers should be in any serious local beer drinkers stashes – they’re in mine. But I concede that I’m rarely serious!

The beer was going down well, assisted by my pal Des shoving up and letting me sit down and drip dry. The conversation flowed as much as the beer. As I’ve said on many occasions. “Beer People Are Good People” and these are the kinds of people that Damian has been serving from his stall these last few years. They like what he does (and sells) and many, like Des and Steve (Beer Nouveau) and myself, came from 15 miles or more to enjoy this new venue. And oh how we did.

I had a look downstairs where Damian & Charlotte have created a room from what would have been cellar space, again, a nice cool look to it. just calm and clean. Spot lighting – the only way given the low ceiling – gives it a warm feel. A nice cosy space.IMAG2766

(Downstairs)

Somebody had said that this was where “the cool kids” were tonight. If so, I don’t know where I fitted in! But there were a number of faces that I knew from Des & Steve, Andy, Richard (Thirst Class) and a number of the Manchester Home Brewer group, my old buddy Jeff, Paul & George (aka Shindigger). It was just a lovely relaxed gathering

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The Craft Keg selection was a pleasure to see too, with the local likes of Runaway, Shindigger, Cloudwater & Marble in among the likes of Weird Beard. Again, certain other new bars could take note of the number of local beers on offer. I found myself amazed that I had never had the Smoked Porter by Runaway on keg previously, so that was duly remedied. Repeatedly. A gentle smoky nose and a lovely creamy texture giving up a big roasty and lightly smoked character. Beautiful beer that.

I also had my first taste of a Cloudwater beer, their Table Beer. Refreshing and with a spicy almost Belgian yeasty note it felt like a wheat/pale ale hybrid and wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Being the talk of the town at the moment, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked what I think of Cloudwater. I shall reserve until I try a few more of their beers, but this wasn’t a bad start.

I also picked up a few bottles. Because, it would a) Be rude not to, and b) This is also an excellent bottle shop! So expect to hear more about some Cheshire Brewhouse, Offbeat, First Chop & Shindigger sometime soon!

In baseball terminology, I think that Damian & Charlotte have hit the ball out of the park here in many ways. The bar looks great. The beer choice is excellent. The background music was superb too – I abruptly broke off a conversation to exclaim “”Canopy” – The Cave Singers. Bloody hell this is a TUNE”! Most of all, by choosing this location. A bar of this type is bound to do well in The Heatons. And, for Northern oiks like me, it’s only a 3 minute walk from Heaton Chapel train station.

All in all – a result.

Postscript : It seems fitting that – given my disastrous journey TO Heaton Hops, that the return journey should also be a bit of a “mare”. A delayed train meant that I would have missed my last bus. Thanks therefore to Paul from Shindigger and his Uber account for getting me home!

Tune

“I have learnt there’s a magical spot at the hop
Come with me to the church on the corner the hop
There’s nuts and there’s crisps and there’s c-c-c-cola on tap
A good time had by those boys and those girls at the hop

Tell me what do you say (tell me what do you say)
Tell me what do you say….I tell you
Life begins at the hop, boys and girls”

(“Live Begins At The Hop” – XTC  – Clip courtesy thecatkeaton on You Tube)

In my library, there could only be one tune to finish this piece with! The mighty XTC on TOTP, things like this used to make my Thursday evenings worth staying in for when I was 14!

One of the greatest bands. Period.

Well. I better get off and gird my loins for Saturday and the Easter 2015 Road To Wigan Beer bus marathon. Come along and have beers you’ll have never tried before and the most fun you could have with your clothes on!

Slainte!

Manchester – Northern Quarter Bar Crawl Pt 2 – 27/03/2015

There are two things that bring old comrades together. Those things are “Leaving Dos” & Funerals. This saddens me and is something that I need to address this year. Over 30 odd years in the same job (give or take a few “re-brandings”), you make a lot of friends. I need some “catch up” evenings. And soon.

This evening started off with an e-mail regarding a (premature – in my view) “Retirement”. Of a lovely fella who has had his fill of cuts and their associated nonsense and has decided to break out on his own.

Brave or foolhardy? Not even he knows for sure.

I find myself invited to a pub in the Northern Quarter on a Friday afternoon in Spring……via a swift Rice ‘n’ Three, I find myself in….

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The Abel Heywood (Turner Street)

Named after a two-time Mayor of Manchester of the Victorian era, this place is a bit of an anomaly. Let’s face it. What brewery spends gazillions opening a pub when so many others are closing? The answer is Hydes. Manchester born & bred (but now nestling nicely in Salford near Media City!)

Its USP is (I suppose) the “Boutique Hotel” which takes up 15 rooms in this conversion. A colleague picked up a bargain double for £60 inc breakfast – and said the room was lovely. A recommendation then!

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The pub itself is open plan and bends around the bar, I didn’t get to see the separate room upstairs, but downstairs is all designer aged, with dark booths, lots of wood and even a faux-nicotine stained look ceiling. Not many Victorian pubs would have had air-con though! Hydes have obvious spent a lot of money on this and – in the short-term – it appears to be paying off as – before I left at about 5:30, the place was absolutely rammed.

The beer was OK. Perle Essence from Hydes’ own “Beer Studio” imprint was quite fruity, yet understated in its hoppiness. A nice pint, but eclipsed somewhat by the 1/2 of Flying Dog Pale Ale that I had before I left  (Not bad at £4.50 a pint)

So far, the place seems to have grabbed a slice of the NQ drinking pie. And that is a competitive meerkat! Or market even.

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57, Thomas Street (Thomas Street)

Just two streets away, almost on a line with the Abel Heywood is this Marble offshoot. And whilst I know that it featured on the last N4 crawl that I did, I just fancied something Marble(ish) and it was an agreeable spot at which to hook up with my beery Yoda – the Arch-Nemesis.

After the sardine tin feel of the previous pub, it was a joy to walk into somewhere that was so cool (in all meanings) and where I could actually get a seat (for a change in here!)

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For the uninitiated, this is a small yet perfectly formed bar with a long bench table opposite the bar. The venue is glass fronted and if you can nab a window seat, it is a great spot to watch the bustle of the NQ pass you by on a Spring afternoon.
But I couldn’t. I did manage to grab a seat on the bench however, prior to approaching the bar with its 4 casks on gravity dispense (straight from the cask – the USP of the bar) With 3 out of the 4 casks on, I went for a zesty pint of er….. Pint, which was as good as usual, lemon sharp and refreshing.
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With a moment to read an excellent piece about Sufjan Stevens in The Grauniad, I had time to admire the place. Really fond of this bar, it has a charm that I can’t quite put into words. From the semi industrial metal ceiling, mock medieval wallpaper (complete with self-advertising stencil!), warm red paint tones. Friendly staff….. Need I go on?

I wonder where the board games all went? (another former USP)

Anyhow, with the AN reaching the end of his excellent pint of Ginger, it was time to move on – after all, this was a crawl! But not too far….
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Terrace Bar (Thomas Street)
If this was a pub, you could describe it as a “Cut”, as it has entrances on both Thomas Street and Edge Street. This place has more of a club feel to it with quite loud dance music pumping through powerful speakers. Exposed brickwork, post-industrial style – is the order of the day here. The bar occupies the side of the venue that you enter via Thomas Street and there is more of a foody vibe at the side that abuts Edge Street.
A distinctly younger crowd in here, with myself and Yoda upping the average age by approximately 2 years! The great thing about Terrace is though, that it never ceases to amaze me that a bar such as this can stock a great beer selection with Thornbridge Jaipur, Liverpool Organic Shipwreck IPA, Harbour Light and Millstone Tiger Rut all on the pumps.
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(I really need to get a new camera/phone!)
With the need to keep a (relatively) clear head, I opted to avoid Live Organic & Thornbridge (big beers both) and had a Harbour Light, which, whilst perfectly acceptable, was probably slightly short of premium nick. Yoda enjoyed his Millstone hugely too. Nice keg selection here too if the cask doesn’t grab you.
terrace may not be to the taste of all in my age group, but there is a certain something that I really enjoy here that I can;t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the tunes. I had forgotten quite how much of a guilty pleasure that “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd was! A classic early 90s #1!
Moving on….and a bit more of a stroll to Dale Street – a bit counter intuitive, considering where we intended to end up!…To
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Allotment Bar (Dale Street)
Having only been in once before (with Atilla), I think I fell in love with this 2014 opening bar when I saw one of the staff watering the indoor window boxes that adore one of the walls! Allotment by name……
Another (kind of) open space, with a centrally located bar dividing the place up a bit. Quite a few tables scattered around near the bar, but many “reserved”, presumably for “diners”. No matter, we only here for one anyway. There is also – to note – a further bar to the rear to serve when it gets really busy. No cask beer at that bar though.
With some local beers on the bar, I opted for the Pale Ale from Tweed of Hyde. A nice fruity beer, with hints of peach and orange.
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(The Hanging Gardens of Babylon….Ok, Dale Street!)
We acquired the completing member of our planned trinity when Jeff (aka Bode Miller – for all you “Ski Sunday” addicts) joined us, grumbling at the distance he had to travel to meet us….all 1/2 mile from his lair!
Nice place Allotment. Another rare pub opening. Quite busy before we left too with more of a mixed crowd that at Terrace.
With a hike across the NQ planned to our ultimate destination, Time for one more…..
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Pie & Ale by Bakerie (The Hive, Lever Street)
Set slightly off Lever Street adj to Stevenson Square, this place is worth seeking out, if not for the pie based menu (they are excellent), then for the beer selection (as well as a great selection of Whiskies)
Another 2014 opening bar. The interior is classy and minimal with exposed brickwork, muted neutral toned paintwork, two distinct ground floor areas and a quite concealed mezzanine dining area. Humming with conversation when we got there, the main topic of OUR conversation when we got there was the beer choice!
Disregarding the house beer “Yippee Pie Ale”, there were beers from the likes of Sonnet 43, Mad Hatter, IndyManBrewHouse (collab with Celt), Ilkley & Weird Beard. The Dynamic Duo both went for the Ilkley whilst I opted for the Hope Street Hop which, whilst as hazy as a spring fog, was actually a damned tasty pint full of peach, mango and tangerine fruitiness.
The only thing that I would say in balance on this bar is that the prices seem a little high. I would have had the Weird Beard Decadence Stout – a formidable beer at 5.5% abv, but not at £5 a pint. Even with it being Jeff’s round, I’m not THAT much of a git!
With a little tweaking down of the prices of some of the beers, this would be a Go To bar for me. Certainly the selection of beers whenever I’ve been in is impressive.
The ultimate destination was the Black Jack Tap, which was open on the Friday night. With the Dynamic Duo setting the pace, this was a thirsty walk.
The beers were all excellent, but particular mention for a stunning spicy and dry Rye IPA by Runaway Brewery (I thanked Mark personally!) and a stunningly smooth, unctuous, vinous and warming one year old Imperial Stout by Dark Star. The great thing about this ending was the beery chatter with some lovely people.
It was like a coming together of brewers with Black Jack, Runaway, Six O’ Clock, Cloudwater. Like a beery Mancunian Illuminati!!!
If I can give a tip? Next time the Tap is open, get your arses down there for some great beer and excellent food (the Pizza was a thing of beauty!) courtesy of those lovely GRUB people, Jason & Jules.
All good things must pass however and the last #8 bus was beckoning. I managed to stay awake (bonus) and must confess a sneaky – and rather nice – Lamb & Chicken Kebab from a local takeaway prior to retiring for the evening at a FAR too late an hour – considering that I had volunteered to work at Prestwich Beer Fest until 01:00 (02:00 with the clocks going forward!) – A great event put on by the folk behind Beer Junkets. But I am currently…knackered!
Stay Tuned for an upcoming review of Heaton Hops – the new venture from Damian (Ale Man Manchester) O’Shea!
With that……
Slainte!
Tune
“It’s real early morning, no-one is awake. I’m back at my cliff, still throwing things off.
I listen to the sounds they make on their way down, I follow with my eyes ’til they crash.
I imagine what my body would sound like slamming against those rocks.
And when it lands, will my eyes be closed or open.
I go through all this, before you wake up. So I can feel happier,
to be safe up here with you.”
(“Hyperballad” – Bjork. Clip courtesy Maskuk on YouTube)
I freely accept that Bjork isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but to me, she is a rare example of a musical artist who does something the is original and bears an utterly individual stamp.
My first encounter was when I first heard “Birthday” by The Sugar Cubes. I was blown away by this strange voice and off-kilter slowed down grungy funk. I therefore bought the album from which it was taken “Life’s Too Good”, a fine album which stands with all the other vinyl that I own in #2 sons loft bedroom – much to his futile annoyance!
Her solo work has, for me, been in many instance, ground breaking. You hear a Bjork record and it sounds like…..Bjork. Most modern music owes a debt to someone, be it via sampling or obvious influences. It’s a rare thing to hear something that makes me go “bloody hell”! But Bjork does it. Consistently. From tracks like Human Behaviour, Pagan Poetry, Hidden Place, Big Time Sensuality……All stunning. All Bjork. Nobody else sounds like this.
This track is – to me – a thing of raw and disturbed beauty. That line about throwing herself off the mountain is sung in such a beautiful child like voice. So haunting. This is a track I go back to time and again. And it’s 20 years old. And it sounds timeless.
I’m off to buy Vulnicura (her latest album) See you later.

Aside

Oh, been tryin’ to let it go, tryin’ to keep my eyes closed
Tryin’ to keep it just like before, the times we never even thought to speak

Don’t wanna tell you what it is, oh, wee, it felt so serious
Got me thinkin’ just too much. I wanna set it off but

It’s this 1 thing that got me trippin’……”

(“1 Thing” – Amerie – Clip courtesy Goldiigaa on YouTube)

Some things just reaffirm my faith in humanity. Just, well, lift me up a bit. This tune was at the heart of that lift. You see, we said “Goodbye” to a close friend on Friday and – during the Humanist service – there were enough tears shed to float a super tanker. It was what happened in the evening that got me.

I like music and in nearly 35 years of collecting have amassed quite a library. I was truly honoured to be asked to compile a playlist for the post-service “celebration” of my friend’s life. Memories were shared, the laughter was like a dam breaking and just roared throughout the day. The someone began “tinkering” with the playlist….and the track above came on.

With a direct lift of a drum break from “Oh Calcutta” by The Meters sampled by producer Rich Harrison (“Crazy In Love” etc) this just has an energy and a vitality to it that is hard to beat. Judged on plays on my iTunes, this must be my favourite tune of the last 10 years. Who am I to argue with Steve Jobs eh? And I think that it knocks “Crazy In Love” out of the park.

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(As seen on Dantzic St!)

I’m not a gambler. I’m much too much of a scaredy cat to take financial risks. But when some people do, I admire them for their bravery. So when Jules Morris and Jason Bailey decided to host a modern beer festival in the shadow of The Manchester Beer & Cider Festival, I applauded. A brave move indeed.

This was – in reality – as much about the artisanal food providers as it was about the beer list (which, if I’m honest, wasn’t particularly wintry), so I was chuffed to bits for them that all sessions sold out.

I was even more pleased – in a perverse way – that the original venue fell through. It gave me another chance to snoop around Runaway Brewery!

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(Angel Meadow)

The weather could barely have been better as I strode up Shudehill with a purpose and a thirst to be slaked. Bright winter sun was the order of the day. On stepping past the all dominating new Co-Operative HQ onto Dantzic Street, the signs were unequivocal. Follow the arrows. Beer awaits!

I’d heard some excellent reports from the Friday evening, with both Jeff & the Arch-Nemesis raving on social media. Could it really be as good as they said?

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Turning into the series of railways arches toward Runaway, the marquee drew me in (as did the smells from within). Now I didn’t try the food at The Velodrome, I have to go on trusted reports which indicated that it really wasn’t all that……However, this was!

With a superb beer from Black Jack in hand, I tucked into a Chorizo & White Bean Stew from Comida, beautifully spiced and chunky, proper winter food.

The feel of this was – strangely, given the vastly different location and season – reminiscent of Levenshulme Beer Festival. That the beer list also had the stamp of Glassworks/BlackJack added to the familiarity, with beers from the likes of Arbor, Hopcraft, BlackJack and many other craft luminaries just added to the familiarity. This just had a really relaxed feel to it. Quite a youngish demographic too, with my lot upping the average age by about 2 years!

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Some excellent tunes in the brewery with a couple of live acts whilst we were there added to the chilled (in more ways than one!) vibe.

Jeff and the Arch-Nemesis indulged their culinary sides more than I with some superb food (judging by the rapturous sounds!) with (if I remember rightly) Fu Schnickens being particularly highly rated.

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On the beer front, for me all of the beers were excellent and – in the main – excellent value for central Manchester, especially the cask offering. The beer of the day for me was the #Beergasmic “Deerhunter” by BlackJack. The coffee saison. It just rocks my world. It just edged out the American Brown Ale from Runaway, predictable excellence from Mr Welsby & friends. Was nice to see Mark and fellow Runaways behind the bar too – Excellent T-Shirts too. I wasn’t jealous….much. Nor did I try to snaffle one….well, not much.

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(Spot the brewmeister?)

Thoughts? Overall, a bloody good beer offering with outstanding food. Really relaxed and friendly. Do it again in June, when it’s a wee bit….warmer! If there was one minor piece of constructive criticism that I would offer, whilst the prices for the kegged beers was quite clear, that didn’t appear to be the case for the cask beers (unless I missed something). I would give the pricing equal prominence. But that really is a minor point.

This could be something close to the future for small beer festivals. A mixture of cask and keg with flavour being the main consideration. And rightly so.

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Jules & Jason, I tip my glass to you. Slainte!

One more thing. These guys are trying to get a new events venue off the ground “The Keystone”. A venue that will (it is hoped) host independent artists and grass-roots food & drink providers. A worthy venture. The Kickstarter link is hereGive it a click. Go on!

GrubMCR – Winter Ales Festival

My #GoldenPints 2014

Golden Pints Logo

Oh Shit! It’s that time of year when I’m forced to be decisive and tell you (and you probably couldn’t give a flying…..) about what I REALLY liked this year, by pre-defined category.

So, 2014 was a year when I discovered the following :

How much I love blogging about beer.

How much I really couldn’t be arsed blogging about beer.

How close you can come to a nervous breakdown (and I HAVE been there) and come through nearly unscathed (See The Independent Salford Beer Festival)

How much generally that “Beer People Are Good People”

And a huge thanks to “BeerReviewsAndy” (someone I have never met) for getting this snowball rolling…..

And….the following……

  1. Best UK Cask BeerGrounds For DivorceFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield, W Yorks) – For me, the best beer at #ISBF2014. A 7.8% Belgian style Tripel fermented using yeast from the legendary Brasserie Orval, brewed at the bottom of a garden in Outwood, Wakefield, by one of the most unassuming people that I have ever met. As fruity as Carmen Miranda’s headgear and as light and tasty as a Heston Blumenthal foam. It. Rocked. My. World. (And I’m yet to really get into Belgian beer!)
  2. Best UK Keg Beer – I haven’t really had all that much, but of those that I HAVE had, I’d fall on the side of American Brown Ale – Runaway Brewery – . From the first sip at Black Jack Tap (Hmmm….) to the last sip (WOW!). This beer adheres to Principle 1 of the 3 Jazwinski Beer Principles. It was a beer that improved with each and every sip. By that last sip, I could *almost* have been a convert to keg. And it was fecking astonishingly good at #ISBF2014 on cask too!
  3. Best UK Bottle or Can – I’m not gonna cop out here by choosing one each (I’ll do THAT elsewhere!). This was a close run thing. My vote – by a well groomed whisker – goes to Govinda (Brandy Barrel Aged) IPACheshire Brewhouse (Congleton, Cheshire). A massively English hopped IPA at 6.8% abv, the original version was already a stunning thing, a grand riposte to those who think English hopped beers are merely brown and twiggy murk. Get Thee Behind Me Beery Satans! “Spicy boozy raisins, banana, marmalade dancing all over a deep toffee malt base. This is a proper IPA. The fruity and toffee flavours …. give way to a spicy hop…” Being fairly dedicated to UK – and Northern beers in particular, this proved the most intense #Beergasm that I had this year.
  4. Best Overseas Draught – Not. Really. My. Bag. Next……!
  5. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – Can? Founders All Day IPA. Does exactly what it says on the tin. Fresh, zingy and oh so refreshing. Bottle? Not had many…But, from Brouwerij The Musketeers (Ursel, Belgium) – Troubadour WestKust Black Imperial IPA – A 750 ml bottle that – in the midst of a tastebud numbing cold, I could actually taste. A full-bodied fruity hop assault. With licorice. What’s NOT to like?
  6. Best Collaboration Brew – Another tricky one. Came down to a choice of two, BOTH involving the mighty Stuart Neilson of the North Riding Brewpub in Scarborough. The first was 300 from Five Towns / North Riding – a big, punchy Double IPA which in no way tasted it’s strength but had more hops than Watership Down and was a damn sight tastier! However, edging this by simple force of Bitterness, is Protz’s PleasureSteel City Brewing (Sheffield) / North Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) – Conceived (possibly) as a riposte to a rant from Roger Protz about the beer type “Black IPA”. All of the oxymoronic characteristics of a BIPA with a simply MASSIVE bitterness. Astonishing.
  7. Best Overall Beer – See 3 above!IMAG2241
  8. Best Branding, Pumpclip or LabelBad Seed Brewery. For that hanging tag pump label. Irritating for the staff, but classy as feck. (I’ve kept the one from #ISBF2014 – don’t change fellas!)IMAG2118
  9. Best UK Brewery – On balance, this HAS to go to the brewery from which I drink the most consistently excellent and drinkable beers – Drinkability, for me, means a tasty, well hopped (or dark and roasted) beer that I can drink repeatedly without falling off my chair. For me, this means AllGates. From Sloe Stout at Manchester Beer and Cider Fest to Half Devil at #ISBF2014 and all points in between, just consistently excellent beer.
  10. Best Overseas Brewery – Moving swiftly on…..Next!
  11. Best New Brewery Opening 2014 – Controversy time! I’m going to go with Shindigger Brewing. I KNOW that they don’t have their own premises (yet!), but as a consumer, this is about the beer, right? From my first taste of Pacific Pale to the Saison/PIP at an MTB in Chorlton, they have progressed with each. and. every. beer. Cask, keg and bottle. Cuckoo? Gypsy? It’s about the beer for me, like I said. A HUGE honourable mention to Runaway Brewery and Squawk Brewing too. Manchester really IS rocking at the moment!
  12. Pub/Bar of the Year – (I’ve twisted the category – slightly!) Pub? Easy. As last year, The Hare & Hounds in Hindley (Wigan). A proper local that I need to visit WAY more often. 5 Great cask beers, friendly service, friendly locals, a real fire and a great landlord/landlady combo in Nigel and Adele. Sorted. Bar? Hmmm….Trickier. But I can’t split. So – a) Great Ale Year Round at Bolton Market for continuing to bring good beer to Bolton (and giving me a reason to visit the town!), a rare thing in the last few years for me. Great local cask/keg beers, friendly regulars, friendly hosts. Anne & Steve continue to do a sterling job. I just hope that the council could open up 6 days a week instead of 4! And – b) Wigan Central – 7 cask lines. 4 Craft keg. In Wigan? A brave move by Prospect Brewery, but one that appears to be paying off judging by the feedback that I’ve been privy to! They made a wise move in bringing Dan & Gina Buck in to run it (formerly of Great Ale Year Round – see the link there?). Great location, fabulously fitted out. Excellent beers too. (As far as the original category goes – both of the latter 2 opened this year!)
  13. Best beer and food pairing – I’m not QUITE reconstructed to that stage yet….Next!
  14. Beer Festival of the Year – 3 candidates. 1 I cannot choose. Because I organised it. The self interest element prevents me from choosing The Independent Salford Beer Festival. So, I’m left with 2. IndyManBeerCon is indeed a beery Tour De Force and remains a fixture for most sensible beer calendars (mine is set for 09:00 on 01/04/2015 – for the probable ticket release!). I DO think that cask appeared to be marginalised this year and I hear many gripes from elsewhere, but really? Just “grow a pair” and appreciate it for what it is! My winner though is AllGates‘ “The Road To Wigan Beer” in April. A fantastic selection of some of the newest and best UK breweries on cask. Spread across 6 pubs within Wigan borough. In one day. On a bus. Simply the most fun I’ve had in 2014. And fun matters.
  15. Supermarket of the YearBooths. Simple. If you have been to a branch, bought beer, then chose a different supermarket, you’re having a laugh. At your own expense. Obviously, If you live more than 20 miles south of Knutsford, you may not understand. It’s a Northern thing!
  16. Independent Retailer of the YearThe Liquor Shop (Whitefield) Now closed and reborn as specialist beer shop BarBeerian, this has been the place from which I have bought the most beer. Period. The stock is large and wide ranging (Scotland to US/Italy) and great value too. All that from a small convenience store! Now Raj has moved a couple of doors down and opened up as a specialist beer shop, he’s looking to open a small bar upstairs with craft keg & a local cask line. I wish him well with this.
  17. Online Retailer of the Year – I haven’t. I try and shop locally. Aren’t I virtuous? Next!
  18. Best Beer Book or MagazineOpening Times (Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA) – Essential semi-drunken bus home reading material. Well written & edited (Mr Clarke, take a bow!).
  19. Best Beer Blog or Website – Hmmm….Time for another split. Still up there (and one of my two) is Glenn Johnson and his “My World of Beer“. Informative, straight and tells me what I want to know. Is the pub/bar/beer good. And does it well. But locally? The Boozy Procrastinator by Deeekos, a blog that came into its own with some assertive posts on a variety of issues from IndyManBeerCon through to Myleene Klaas & Paddington Bear (in the same post!). Funny, informative, passionate. A winning combination.
  20. Best Beer AppTwitter. I think I would meltdown if I used Untappd. And not in a good way. Some people talk such utter bollocks about beer & breweries when they can be cloaked in anonymity. So no. Next!
  21. Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer@BroadfordBrewer. For #TwattyBeerDoodles and so much more.
  22. Best Brewery Website/Social mediaCheshire Brewhouse. Just functional & classy.

 

“The Bar Now Arriving……” – Wigan Central – A Great Bar Is Born

“I was following the pack, all swallowed in their coats
With scarves of red tied ’round their throats
To keep their little heads from falling in the snow, and I turned ’round and there you go
And Michael, you would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime”

(“White Winter Hymnal” – Fleet Foxes)

(Clip via “Sub Pop” Records on YouTube)

Simply, the most beautiful tune. Few will better it as a winter themed song – or as just a beautiful song full stop. End of message.

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I like Wigan. My love of Allgates’ beers and pubs has almost entered legend. But, therein lies the rub….the only pub I really enjoy in the town centre is The Anvil. However, that all changed on a dark and chilly December evening when I was invited to a “soft opening” of a new bar created by Prospect Brewery and run by Dan & Gina Buck.

I was saddened when Dan & Gina sold on Great Ale Year Round. Felt a bit like losing an arm. Luckily, they sold it on to people (Anne & Steve) who run it in the same vein and keep Bolton supplied with great beer. However, Dan & Gina needed something else…A break & a new challenge. However, I don’t think they had any idea how quickly an opportunity would come around!



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(Hello Patsy!)

Patsy Slevin (Brewer/Owner) and her other half John, the owners of Prospect Brewery of Standish had had their mind set on a bar in Wigan for a while, when the opportunity of a railway arch on Queen Street (1 min walk from Wigan North Western) came up. On Wednesday evening, a select few of us got the chance to see how these plans had born fruit.

And HOW they have……

Let’s get this out of the way (and it WILL re-occur!) …there is a distinct railway theme to this bar!

This being my first sight of the venue, the first thing that struck me was how big it was! Don’t get me wrong, this is not a huge space, but I WAS expecting something a bit more….well….mini! Maybe it’s the height of the arch that gives a greater illusion of space, but this felt quite capacious. Then you look around….everything about the place has been themed around railways. From the seating booths to the right of the entrance, that reminded me of the old First Class compartments on 60s-70s trains (Dad spoiled us!), to the mock old-fashoined railway station style roof that adorns the place above the bar. It’s the little things…..

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(And they are….)

A lot of thought has gone into the design of this interior. The bar as a “First Class” refreshment booth, the olf fashioned insignia/logo that adorns the polo shirts for the staff which carries on into the bottle display. The hammock-like cargo nets above the booths to take customers’ coats (some of us speculated when the first wag will try to climb up for a kip!)

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(Just what a travelling drinker needs! The train home!)

The inclusion of screens integrated into the wall for both Arrivals and (more importantly) Departures was inspired! John’s idea so I was told. I doff my proverbial to him, a superb touch that was remarked upon in approving fashion by all who checked for the next train to Manchester. Who needs Trainline eh?

Of course, all of this thought and design isn’t worth the sweat, if you haven’t got a heart & soul. That’s where Dan & Gina come in. They know what they’re doing. They know how to source and (more importantly) serve great beer and they have they certain something that all good “landlords” have. That little something that makes you feel welcome and that makes you know that you’re in the right place for a decent beer too.

Speaking of which….

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6 handpulls. 6 Keg fonts including 3 “Craft Keg” (Opening night were Runaway Smoked Porter, Marble Boheme Pilsner & Magic Rock Ringmaster). The handpulls featured 2 from Prospect and four guests. Opening night beers were from Anarchy (of Morpeth) with Quiet Riot, Winter Tweed from Tweed of Hyde (new brewery), Jarl from Fyne Ales & Goodhews Dry Stout from Barngates.

A fine selection.

I might have tried one or two….

Being a Winter evening, the Dark Side was a-calling like a wolf howling. I heeded the call and tried all 3 darks. Big John & Goodhews from Barngates were both excellent cask Stouts. Roasty and smooth. The Smoked Porter from Runaway was arguably even better on keg than in bottle (and it’s a belter in that format too!), smooth with a little of that Rauchy edge to it.

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(Big John & Boheme – I’m a greedy git!)

Pales? Jarl has as much grapefruit sharpness as a Supermarket fruit aisle. Predictable brilliance. The Quiet Riot from Anarchy was a fruity weapon of mass destruction ( I was a little…slow the next day!) at 6.6% abv, all chewy malt and tropical fruit. Deliciously dangerous. The Boheme Pilsner from Marble was a really pleasant surprise that reminded me of Pilsner Urquell and had a lightness of touch. Refreshing. I hope they keep it permanent.

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I came back for the formal public opening the next evening (Thursday). That was the queue – albeit swollen with some that were in from 5 for a private Thank You reception. I didn’t think we’d get in!

But we did.

It. Was. Rammed.

I chatted with the guys behind Tweed Brewery and thoroughly enjoyed a pint of their Winter Tweed, a tawny coloured beer with chocolate a caramel undertones like a Chomp Bar. But liquid. And with alcohol! A good first beer.

Nice to finally meet Patsy and John. And I told them that they’d done well getting Dan & Gina. But I think they knew that already!

Dan & Gina had stated that they wouldn’t be behind the bar. The crowds dictated otherwise! I chatted with a few people and the feedback was universal. This place has made a big initial impression. It certainly did on me.

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The biggest compliment that I can make? The Anvil has company at Wigan’s top table. It’s called Wigan Central. Make a note and pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.